A few weeks ago, my Twitter and Facebook feed were full of reports that a document had been found which had an eyewitness account of Jesus performing miracles. This was great news, it confirmed that the Bible was true and gives Christians an excellent historical basis to refute those pesky skeptics who refuse to believe in our message.
Rome| An Italian expert studying a first century document written by the Roman historian Marcus Velleius Paterculus that was recently discovered in the archives of the Vatican, found what is presumed to be the first eyewitness account ever recorded of a miracle of Jesus Christ. The author describes a scene that he allegedly witnessed, in which a prophet and teacher that he names Iēsous de Nazarenus, resuscitated a stillborn boy and handed him back to his mother.
But, there are a few problems.
The Origin of the Report: this news first surfaced on the World News Daily Report, which sounds like a serious a reliable source. However, a quick search of the WNDR website quickly turns up this disclaimer:
World News Daily Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within worldnewsdailyreport.com are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental, except for all references to politicians and/or celebrities, in which case they are based on real people, but still based almost entirely in fiction.
So the source that we were looking at for confirmation that the Bible is true, was a satire site that publishes in ‘semi-real or mostly fictitious ways’. With a bit more digging, you could soon discover that the photo of the document discovered in the Vatican library, was actually from Vindolanda in Northumberland. Oh, and the photo of the Italian scholar was someone else entirely; it’s not even clear that the Italian expert named in the article actually exists.
This report shows all the hallmarks of a cleverly concocted ruse to demonstrate how gullible Christians are. I suspect the authors are laughing themselves silly at the way so many people were taken in.
Where the Report Wasn’t Published: If a document such as this one had been discovered, it would have been debated in great detail in the academic press. There is a massive amount of archaeological and documentary research being done into the history of Israel, the life of Jesus and the early church. But it is published in the places that academics do their publishing, not in news web sites that no one has heard of. For those of us who don’t read the academic press, the first we would hear of a story like this would probably be in Christianity Today or some other reputable journal or magazine. There are also a lot of New Testament scholars blog on issues like this one; try this for size.
What Else Do We Have To Take Seriously? The problem is, that if we are going to start getting excited about documents that add something to the story of the Gospels, we end up tying ourselves in knots. The Independent (a more reliable source of news than the World News Daily Report), had this story in the last few days: